First President of the University of Virginia. Photo courtesy of Special Collections.
A rare photograph with Bessie Alderman, taken at a reception in the Rotunda. Left to right: President Edwin A. Alderman, Mrs. Bessie Alderman, Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg and Mrs. Kellogg, Governor Harry Flood Byrd, Dean Charles G. Maphis, and Mrs. Maphis. Photo by Frank Mitchell, Special Collections.
With the inauguration of Edwin Alderman the University began to change, at first in small ways and later in larger ones. It was during his installation that academic robes sprang up at the University like flowers after rain. Dumas Malone notes that "being a novelty, the various doctors’ hoods were described in local accounts in much the way that ladies dresses are in society columns."
In spite of his not unusual fondness for pomp, Mr. Alderman was deeply dedicated to democracy in education. An acolyte of educator J. L. M. Curry, the South’s great educational equalizer, Mr. Alderman had run teacher institutes in North Carolina and had campaigned there, as did Mr. Jefferson in Virginia, for universal access to elementary and secondary education. As president of the University of North Carolina, of Tulane, and of the University of Virginia, he continued to proselytize for universal education. At the University of Virginia, one of his first achievements was the founding of the Curry Memorial School of Education, and ten years later, the building of Peabody Hall to house the school.
Higher Education for Women
In addition to his campaign to democratize elementary and secondary education, Mr. Alderman worked to extend higher education to women. He believed the state’s failure to educate the "forgotten woman" was a gross failure of democracy. At the University, he attempted to right the wrong.
Women were first admitted to the University as degree candidates in 1920. (There are stories about women enrolling as early as 1890.) By 1924, sixty-one women were enrolled at the University: two in law, seven in medicine, fourteen in graduate arts and sciences, thirty-six in education, and two in the College. Mr. Alderman was less successful in providing higher education for women at the undergraduate level.
At first, Mr. Alderman had hoped that the University might open a University-sponsored women’s college like the ones at Harvard and Columbia, located nearby and with bachelor degrees awarded by the University. In 1929, because he had faced years of vocal and adamant opposition from students, faculty, and alumni, he changed his mind. At a Richmond hearing on a proposed women’s college in Charlottesville, Mr. Alderman and eight members of the Board of Visitors expressed their desire to see an affiliated women’s school in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, or Fredericksburg.
In 1930, the General Assembly passed legislation that limited the location of any women’s college affiliated with the University to thirty miles distance from Charlottesville. The wind had left the sails of the movement to found a University of Virginia women’s college, which did not happen until the administration of John Newcomb.
Still focused on extending education more widely to the people of Virginia, Mr. Alderman began to enlarge the University’s extension educational services. The first director of extension services was Charles Maphis, professor of secondary education, appointed in 1915. Eventually enrollment in extension courses climbed to seven hundred despite inadequate resources of money and personnel. Then in 1925, professor of education George Zehmer was appointed director of the new Extension Division, which Mr. Alderman described as "the most daring and beautiful and moving movement of advance in the whole history of the university."
Although he had never been enrolled in a doctoral program himself, President Alderman, known during his presidency as "Dr. Alderman," earned enough honorary doctorates (nearly a dozen) to merit the title. But while he was an ardent bibliophile, he did not fully appreciate the value of what Dumas Malone has called "minute research." Under his leadership, although the professional graduate schools advanced, enrollment in "the department of graduate studies [in the College of Arts and Sciences] hovered in the thirties," as Mr. Malone reports.
President Casteen notes that not until the University’s first president with a Ph.D., Edgar Shannon, did Ph.D.’s become the standard degree for professors, and Ph.D. programs begin to grow at the University. Two years after the Department of Law extended its two-year program to three years, it had moved to a new building, Clark Hall, devoted solely to its use. Engineering also prospered, although not quite so dramatically, growing steadily throughout Mr. Alderman’s administration. One of the new engineering professorships added after 1905 was filled by John Lloyd Newcomb, who was to play a critical administrative role during the Alderman administration and was to become second president of the University in 1931.
The Medical School was Mr. Alderman’s primary focus. During the early years of his presidency, he oversaw the building of laboratories, the acquisition of equipment, and hiring of physicians who increased the school’s research capability tenfold. These developments, along with the school’s tightening of admission standards, led to the American Medical Association registering the University’s medical school as one of twenty Class-A institutions in 1911. Eleven years later, Mr. Alderman fought and won a battle against consolidating the University’s medical education program with the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond: the Medical School stayed in Charlottesville.
Because of President Alderman’s charisma, energy, and managerial talents, the faculty, student body, and endowment grew during his tenure. As early as 1906, the General Assembly raised the state’s contribution from $50,000 to $75,000, the first increase in twenty-six years. By 1930, the University’s budget, which had operated in the red in 1904, was ten times larger than it had been and was operating in the black, while the endowment had grown to $10 million. During Alderman’s presidency, the faculty increased from 48 members to 290, and the student body grew from 500 to 2,450. His leadership also inspired confidence in external organizations. Shortly after his appointment in 1904, the American Association of Universities elected the University of Virginia to full membership, the only southern university so distinguished. Alumni also had tremendous confidence in him. Their gifts built the Steele wing addition to the Old Medical School; McKim, Clark and Cobb Halls; the Monroe Hill dormitories; and Scott Stadium.
World War I
When war broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914, Mr. Alderman was in Switzerland convalescing. During the previous year and a half at Lake Saranac, New York, he had been treated for tuberculosis. During his treatment in New York, John Newcomb was overseeing the operation of the University, fulfilling most of the major presidential responsibilities.
In October of 1914, finally back at the University, Mr. Alderman found his life to be very different from what it had been before his illness. Dumas Malone describes its constraints:
"When at the University he spent only the latter half of the morning in his office, he rested in the early afternoon, and, except for meetings of the faculty and committees, he rarely went out in the evenings. The progress of the University in the next seventeen years shows clearly that he did not neglect the institution. Nonetheless, he had to relegate local social life to a position of relative unimportance; and, despite the triumphal welcome that he had received from the students and the strong affection that was manifested toward him by the faculty, to many members of the academic community he became an increasingly distant figure."
Colgate Darden also remembers Mr. Alderman’s wraith-like appearances on Grounds: "He would go over to his office sometime between eleven and twelve-I lived on the Lawn for a year, and I would see him-and then move on home for lunch, and so far as I was ever able to learn, that completed his day’s work. I’m sure that what he did was work in his library at the president’s house. Also he did a good deal of traveling in promoting the University and raising funds."
Carr's Hill as Refuge
Because of Mr. Alderman’s poor health and the rigors of executive office, he and Mrs. Alderman did not use Carr’s Hill the way they had planned. It became a refuge from his job rather than an extension of it. There he worked in the study at the back of the house. Joseph Vaughan tells the story of a former Board of Visitors member, William Potter, who went up to Carr’s Hill when he was a student to intercede for a friend recently suspended from the University: "When Alderman came into the hallway, he greeted Potter warmly and asked, ‘Mr. Potter, is this a social visit or a matter of business?’ Potter said, ‘I’ve come to talk about a student friend of mine.’ Alderman replied, ‘Mr. Potter, that sounds like business, and I attend to business in my office, never in my home.’ Escorting Potter to the door, Alderman said, ‘Good day, sir; please make an appointment.’"
In Buckingham Palace, the antebellum cottage to the west of the house, Edwin Anderson Alderman, Jr., lived alongside his parents during his time at the University, from 1923 to 1929. The quiet of the house must have been punctuated by occasional voices of students and noise of the farm at the north end of the hill.
Although beset by physical problems, President Alderman remained in office until his death in 1931. In 1917, he saw University students training on the Grounds and then marching off to battle. More than 2,500 students and alumni, and 26 members of the faculty fought in the Great War. Eighty were killed.
The University's Centennial
In 1921, he presided over the University’s celebration of its centennial, two years late because of the war. Hundreds of alumni came to mark the anniversary. Eight hundred slept in the University’s abandoned military barracks. A history of the University, written by alumnus Philip Bruce, was commissioned by the alumni association and published in five volumes; a volume of poetry, which included such authors as Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence, was also published to celebrate the centennial.
In his Centennial Address, President Alderman, in a recuperative mood, compared the days of Jefferson to his own:
Then as now, men felt that they held the end of an age and the beginning of another epoch; and the new seminary of 1819, like the mature mother of 1919, faced a convalescent world, fretful in its moods, let down in its morale, dull in its thinking, commonplace in its ideals, waiting irresolutely for guidance into right paths of peace and reconstruction. Then, as always, in this troubled but advancing world, the saving remnant saw the two great forces of permanent reconstruction-youth, unbound by tradition, unbroken by war, undepressed by events, because sustained by the glorious buoyancy that surrounds the morning of life, and secondly, a new social theory of intelligent cooperation for the common good supplanting dull autocracy or benevolent despotism.
The sight of the fresh faces of first-year students must have been as restorative to Mr. Alderman as they always have been to University faculty and staff. No matter how ill he felt, President Alderman left Carr’s Hill every day to see to it that the University prepared the young to take over for the old. When he died on April 29, 1931, the University was thriving and brimming with life.
After Mr. Alderman’s death and the election of John Lloyd Newcomb as interim president, Mr. Newcomb, ever unassuming, did not move into Carr’s Hill. Instead, Mrs. Alderman stayed on in the house until builders completed her new home. This admirably proportioned house is located near the intersection of Rugby Road with Preston Avenue. It was a fitting residence, she thought, for the widow of the University’s first president.